Best known for playing a young Clark Kent for 10 seasons on the TV series “Smallville,” actor Tom Welling has since moved on from his role as an iconic superhero, but hasn’t necessarily given up portraying heroic characters. After “Smallville” ended its run in 2011, Welling starred in the 2013 independent film “Parkland” about the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. In the film, Welling plays Roy Kellerman, one of the Secret Service agents on duty when Kennedy is fatally shot in Dallas, Texas in 1963. Now in the sports drama “Draft Day,” Welling displays his bravery on the gridiron as Brian Drew, a starting quarterback with the Cleveland Browns who is not very pleased when he finds out the team’s general manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) might be looking to replace him in the upcoming NFL Draft. Worried about losing his job to a rookie quarterback, Brian asks Sonny to trade him so his season won’t be wasted sitting on the bench.
During a phone interview a couple weeks ago, Welling talked to me about the time he spent observing and chatting with NFL players during the Cleveland Browns training camp and shared with me an impressive stat that proves just how powerful his arm really is even without the aid of superhuman strength.
So, you were born in New York City. Does that make you a fan of the Jets or Giants?
I don’t really have a favorite team. I guess my favorite team now is the [Cleveland] Browns. I’ll be watching them a lot from now on.
OK, so you’re not a big pro football fan, I see. I did read that you played a lot of soccer back in the day.
Yeah, I grew up playing soccer, baseball and basketball. I mean, I threw the football around in the backyard with my brother and friends. I still do. I probably throw the football around more today than I kick the soccer ball. We really weren’t allowed to play [football]. My father played throughout college and he didn’t want us to play the sport. I think my knees probably thank him for that.
Was there a specific reason he didn’t want you to play? I know today there is a lot more proof about how dangerous playing football can be for children. Was he worried you’d get hurt?
I’m not sure why. I don’t think football was that big in the schools we went to. Soccer was a much bigger deal, so it wasn’t much of an issue.
Since you’re playing a quarterback in this film, did you have to do a little training on the field to get into character or was being an overall athlete enough?
I got the job 10 days before I went on set, so I didn’t have much time. But I was able to go to the Cleveland Brown’s training camp. That was enlightening on many levels. I knew these guys were big, but I don’t think I understood how fast they were, too. They are fast! I also talked to the guys about what it’s like having the life of an NFL football player; not so much about the game, but the travel and the toll it takes on them and their families. I learned a lot and appreciate what they go through.
So, did you fit in well with these players while you were on the field with them? I mean, standing next to an NFL football player, can you pass for one?
You know, when I was there, I wasn’t necessarily suited up with them. I was just a guy walking around and throwing a ball around here and there. I’m sure I stuck out like a sore thumb.
It sort of sounds like you’re admitting you probably couldn’t take a sack in real life.
Oh, I definitely wouldn’t want to take a sack. I don’t think I could either.
What was it about your character, Brian Drew, that you connected with?
For me it was his struggle to survive in his way of life. That’s one of the biggest things that drew me to him.
This film is about the drama that takes place on this one specific day in the NFL? Was that evident on the set? Could you imagine how much pressure there is on everyone to make the right decisions for the future of their franchise?
The amount of drama I saw being part of this was exponentially more than I could ever have imagined. In watching the film you learn about what happens behind the scenes and what can happen and how things can change and flip very quickly. I think you feel that tension of the NFL Draft when you see the film. This is the first film the NFL has ever endorsed, so we had a lot of access to the draft and things no one has ever seen before. It was pretty cool.
Yeah, it wasn’t like other pro football movies, like “Any Given Sunday,” where screenwriters had to create an entire new league from scratch. How beneficial was it to have the NFL back the film like they did?
It was really cool to go to the Browns training camp and have all that access. I think it really helped me connect with the idea of being on a team because it’s a real team. It definitely helped me in that regard.
Cleveland isn’t really one of the top tier teams in the NFL right now and has had some problems in the last few years making an impression in the league. Have you heard from any Cleveland Browns fans and how they feel you’ve depicted their team?
I haven’t heard anything, but I know when we were filming it, there was a lot of anticipation and a lot of hope last season. The Browns fans are extremely resilient. You have to love them for that.
Is there another professional league you follow if it’s not the NFL?
I don’t know that I follow any league. I probably follow film and television more than I follow sports to be honest.
So, what kind of movies do you like going to see at the theater when you’re not staring in them?
It depends on what mood I’m in. I can watch just about anything. I really don’t watch a lot of horror movies though. But I like to see everything – comedies, action, drama.
Because you were such a big part of the comic-book world on TV, are those DC Comics and Marvel Comics-inspired films something you watch, too?
I’ve seen most of the films that have come out recently that deal with the Marvel and DC characters. But even being on a TV show like “Smallville” all those years, I didn’t really pick up a comic book addiction.
Was it interesting to be on the set with Kevin Costner knowing that he was going to be in “Man of Steel?”
Yeah, it’s funny because it didn’t really occur to me and we didn’t even talk about it. I did a movie called “Parkland,” which was about the JFK assassination. So, the conversations I had with Kevin dealt more with that since [Kevin] was in [Oliver Stone’s 1991 film “JFK”]. So, we chatted about that. Superman didn’t even come up at all.
In “Draft Day,” you got the opportunity to work with director Ivan Reitman who is known for some great comedies like “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters.” What was it like taking direction from someone who has been in this industry for over 40 years?
It was great. He’s warm and inviting and professional. He creates an environment on set that’s really creative. I’d love to work with him again.
So, since you play a quarterback in this film, how far can you really throw the ball down the field?
I threw it 65 yards. We measured it.
Wow, that’s a pretty strong canon you’ve got there.
Yeah, but you have to remember I didn’t have anyone running at me trying to take my head off either.